October 17, 2023
Chair Parkin and MN GAL Board members:

Considering all the challenges facing the Minnesota Guardian ad Litem program, it is devastating to our state’s most vulnerable children that so much effort has been misdirected here. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to the MN Guardian ad Litem Board regarding the MAD GAL report. My hope is that the MN Guardian ad Litem Board will collaborate to both correct this report and make decisions about the volunteer program that truly benefit the children of Minnesota.

CASA Minnesota, our volunteers, supporters, and I strongly disagree with this report. The report is highly
problematic, and I will cover several key points.

1. The agreed-upon cost-benefit analysis was not done.
2. The analysis did not include any facts regarding the 950 volunteer CASA organizations nationally.
3. CASA Minnesota was excluded from actively participating in this review as agreed to.
4. The exemplary qualifications and performance of our volunteers, and their actual cost-benefit, was
buried in this report.

As part of CASA Minnesota’s collaboration with the state GAL program, the state agreed to pursue a cost benefit analysis which was specifically recommended in the 2017 National Center for State Courts review.

However, the current analysis disregarded our agreement and converted the cost-benefit analysis into a cost effectiveness analysis. As a result, the report intentionally omitted a robust list of benefits volunteers bring to the child protection system. The plan was to objectively document the benefits and evaluate those benefits against their cost, but that was not done. Instead, a cost-effectiveness analysis was conducted that pursued efficiencies and data entry activity vs. outcomes for children.

Additionally, it was overwhelmingly communicated to the consultant that the predominant national model for delivering guardian ad litem services is the volunteer model and that numerous hybrid models of employees and volunteers working together also exists across the United States. These facts and any discussion and evaluation of these facts was omitted.

There are over 950 volunteer CASA organizations and more than 98,000 qualified, screened, and trained Volunteer GALs performing across 49 states plus the District of Columbia. If Minnesota eliminates the CASA Volunteer program, it will be an outlier as the only state to do so. These are material facts that must be included in this review.

We are concerned that the review can be interpreted as an effort to support a pre-determined conclusion. For example, the opening remarks on page 2 refer to program leadership seeking to perform due diligence about whether to formally end the use of volunteers.

If we were being truly objective, we would have directed the consultant to evaluate volunteer costs and benefits and allowed the data to stand on its own. To add integrity to the review process, on May 16, 2023, the MN Guardian ad Litem Board was told by program management that I would have a “seat at the table”, and the Board approved this action.

The board was also told that I would be involved in analyzing the results. This did not occur. I was not given a seat at the table; I was not allowed access to the work being done or to ask questions along the way. I was only invited to a kickoff meeting, interviewed once, and then results were shared.

Hennepin County Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Mark Kappelhoff has publicly stated that the 4th District GAL program is in a crisis status because there now is a lack of substance both in oral and written communication coming from the current GAL pool, and we agree.

Judge Kappelhoff told me on August 18 that he was not interviewed as part of this report. If this is still the case, it appears the lead judge of the Juvenile bench was excluded because he was critical of the current program. The crisis has been driven by eliminating volunteers, employee turnover, open positions, and new employee GALs still learning their roles.

Maintaining experienced volunteer GALs is a critical and valuable partnership that could help the new employees be more successful and truly benefit the children.

Completely omitted is the superior tenure, training, and educational level of the volunteer pool. However, the report does properly call out one fact. The volunteers have a far stronger performance as it related to visiting children, attending hearings, and turning in reports on time. But the consultant obscures this by making up new metrics not used by the program.

The consultant created something called “case activities”, which captures the data entries on cases. The consultant attempts to show that data entry outweighs actual child visits and time spent with a child. Data entry is a complicated topic because during this period the program was piloting a transition from paper notes to system notes. The employees and the volunteers did not always have the same processes at the same time. Again, I was not included to help analyze results and explain issues with data comparisons. The effect of this approach is to inaccurately undervalue the strong performance of volunteers as it relates to the core function of advocating for children. The number of children is real, the number visits is real, and we do not need to manufacture new metrics to create an artificial outcome. 

Of course, there are always areas to improve upon as volunteers. We have been and continue to be committed to continuous improvement. It was just this last winter when we received a dedicated supervisor and the accountability, performance metrics, and outcomes reflect the benefits from that investment.
The executive summary contains misleading information around the cost of volunteers, showing the cost per case is nearly the same for employees and volunteers. This is not accurate. What matters is absolute cost, and the cost of one supervisor is the only material incremental cost to the state. The state spends approximately $23 million on the program annually, and of that amount, the cost related to supervising volunteers is approximately $56,000 plus benefits, which is the cost of one supervisor. That’s it. This cost translates to less than $1,200 per case. Again, I was not included to help analyze results and explain issues with data comparisons.

The report calls out that years of service is the key indicator for both employees and volunteers to be able to do their job well. We agree. Experience matters. In the 4th District, the average tenure for employees is approximately 2 years and the average tenure for current volunteers is nearly 9 years. The report incorrectly
states volunteer data was not available. These favorable and valuable volunteer tenure facts were not included, and again I was not included to help provide this information. 

There are multiple allegations against volunteers which appear to come from interviews of program management with biases against volunteers. First, that we are all wealthy do-gooders. This is offensive and shows massive, obvious bias. How would anyone know someone is wealthy and why would that enable a
collective conclusion? Our expansive roster of volunteers includes fosters, teachers, stay at home parents, retirees, etc., of which most have advanced degrees, and many are accomplished in their careers, not “wealthy do-gooders”.

Another allegation refers to volunteers buying gifts for fosters. If a policy violation occurs by a volunteer or an employee, it should lead to removal of the GAL if not corrected. I have never seen this happen, and as a result it appears to be extremely isolated. The report should not include allegations, but if it is going to include allegations, we should list allegations against management, claims filed with HR, open investigations, etc. This is not a productive path to go down in this report, and so we should not have dropped an inflammatory accusation in the report about volunteers without also discussing employee issues.

The report indicates volunteers cannot recruit diverse personnel; we have a back log of over 200 applicants of which 40 are self-disclosed as BIPOC. We have not been allowed to share our recruiting efforts. There are many additional issues with the methods, data, and conclusions stated within this report. Our concerns are not limited to volunteer data. As an example, it is inconceivable that employees ever missed 83% of the required child visits as stated within this report. We must investigate this and correct as appropriate or the areas of “bad data” must be excluded. We need to follow up and work together to get facts corrected.

I want to stress that CASA Minnesota is not anti-employee. In fact, we went to the capital and supported the increased budget for more guardians and higher pay. We want our children to have great guardians, both employees and volunteers. Sr. Judge Lyonel Norris has stated that to surround children only with employees serves to effectively institutionalize them. He’s right, and we all know how harmful institutionalizing children has been and removing other points of view such as CASA Volunteers is unhealthy.

We ask that the MN Guardian ad Litem Board work with us to correct the inaccuracies within this analysis, so that we have an accurate basis for assessing the volunteer program. We also ask that the MN Guardian ad Litem Board reinstate CASA MN’s ability to recruit new volunteers and sustain a meaningful volunteer
guardian ad litem pool.

Whether all of this was because of poor design or through intent, the injury is to the most vulnerable children of Minnesota. Those children need all the resources we can give them. Unfortunately, two children on average continue to die each month in Minnesota while in child protection (Minnesota Child Fatalities from
Maltreatment Report, 2023). Our properly screened, trained, and supervised volunteers are simply too valuable to discard and too desperately needed.
This report would not stand up at Target, where I worked for 25 years, and it should be rejected by this board too.

The report recommendation just does not match the facts. The most relevant explanation as to why the program does not want volunteers occurred on October 5, when Tami Baker-Olson genuinely stated to me that her issue is that she can compel employees to perform and not Volunteers, they are just a different model. I appreciate Tami sharing her honest views. Since the volunteer performance results in the report are favorable, and do not match Tami’s view, we should work to fully understand Tami and resolve this barrier whether perceived or real. We should not let this view drive volunteer elimination when their performance is strong.

Gerard Bodell
Volunteer GAL and Board President CASA Minnesota



READ THE STATE GAL Cost Effectiveness Analysis

There are many forces at play on Child Protective Services today:

Parental rights, Racial disparities,

better tracking and reporting of

critical child outcomes based metrics in CPS

and the continued over-institutionalizing

of children in the system

(dehumanizing trends)

KARA reports on the issues of invisible children

This article submitted by Former CASA Guardian Ad Litem Mike Tikkanen

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